ATHENS — Kris Durham knew he’d get a chance to make some plays while Georgia’s best receiver was on the sideline.
He’s sure taking advantage of it.
With A.J. Green serving an NCAA-imposed suspension, Durham has emerged as the Bulldogs’ big-play weapon. He has 13 catches for 260 yards over the first three games, which isn’t that far off what he did over his first three seasons.
“He’s making a ton of plays for us,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “Pretty much all of our big plays have been through him. He’s done a great job being a playmaker and really stepping up for the offense.”
Not bad, especially considering what Durham has been through.
As a junior, he missed a couple of games with an injured ankle, then sustained a broken hand in practice before the final regular-season game. Durham came back to play in the Capitol One Bowl, only to miss the entire 2009 season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Now, he’s clearly making up for lost time.
Durham already has four catches of at least 35 yards, the sort of numbers the Bulldogs would have expected out of Green if he had not been suspended for selling a bowl jersey for $1,000 to someone deemed an agent.
“This is probably more than I’ve had in my career,” Durham said. “I’m happy to have the opportunities.”
But his voice trails off. It’s hard to take much joy out of personal success when Georgia is sitting 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1993, putting its championship hopes in severe jeopardy before Green even gets on the field.
The Bulldogs (1-2 overall) probably have to win out in the conference — beginning with Saturday night’s game at Mississippi State — to have any chance of capturing the SEC East.
“I’m more about the winning,” Durham said. “I’d rather be winning games than have these stats.”
He had another career-best game last week against Arkansas, coming through with fourth-quarter catches of 46 and 35 yards. Both grabs set up touchdowns, helping the Bulldogs rally from a 14-point deficit. The comeback was all for naught, however, when Ryan Mallett threw a 40-yard scoring pass with just 15 seconds remaining to give the Razorbacks a 31-24 victory.
Durham isn’t the only receiver coming through the Bulldogs. Tavarres King has seven receptions. Marlon Brown and Logan Gray have five apiece. Israel Troupe and Rantavious Wooten also have catches.
“They’ve all stepped up,” Murray said. “Every pass I’ve thrown that’s been catchable, they’ve made the catch. It’s not like you’re seeing dropped passes left and right. They’re making catches, and they’re making plays after the catch.”
Over his first three years, Durham was a modest contributor to the Bulldogs’ offense (32 receptions, 450 yards, one touchdown), ceding the spotlight to receivers such as Green and Mohamed Massaquoi.
The shoulder injury raised doubts about whether Durham would he here and gone before anyone at Georgia even noticed.
“There’s always things that go through your mind,” he said. “Will I ever get healthy? Will I ever get this opportunity back? But you just have to stay focused on what’s at hand, just be willing to realize that things do happen for a reason and you’re going to be able to get through this.”
What reasons did he come up with for his rash of injuries? He’s still working on that.
“You may not understand it then, you may not understand it now,” Durham said. “You may not really get the whole grasp of everything until the future. But there’s a reason for it all.”
Maybe he should just look at these first three games. Maybe in some odd way, Green’s suspension was a bit of payback for the opportunities missed by Durham.
“It’s definitely rewarding,” he said. “I had to put in a lot of hard work, especially with my shoulder and the other injuries I had. There’s a lot of time away from the field, away from the cameras, away from people’s eyes, where no one realizes, no one sees what you’re going through.
“To be somewhat successful this year, it’s a reward. At the same time, it’s about the team. It’s not about individual statistics and awards.”